December is the month of cookies.
Everywhere you look, there are cookies. Cookies at office parties (well, maybe not this year). Cookies at holiday gatherings (assuming there will be such things). Random people standing on street corners handing out delicious fresh-baked cookies to strangers (OK, this has never happened to me, but a fellow can hope).
It has been an unusual year. Perhaps you have noticed. But even so, people are finding ways to keep up the Christmas cookie tradition.
One reader wrote to say that her annual cookie exchange party is still going on this year, but virtually ("with real live cookies"). She has worked out a plan by which her friends bake cookies, put them in plastic bags for each person, drops those bags off in a plastic box at the host's house, and the host then collates all the cookies and delivers them to each of the guests.
Yes, it's a lot of work. But it's cookies. Cookies. Cookies are worth any amount of trouble. I even have a colleague who went to the trouble of breaking her hand just so I would bake her some cookies. It seemed excessive, but it worked.
This holiday season, I baked five types of cookies, so far. Now that the baking is done and I have wiped the flour and butter off the floor and counters and walls and ceiling, I can look back on the types I made and see that they fall generally into two categories: chocolate and enormous. This wasn't intentional, it is just the way the cookies crumbled.
One of the batches yielded cookies that were both chocolaty and enormous. My Double Chocolate Chunk and Chip Cookies are thick and nearly 4 1/2 inches in diameter. They are baked with cocoa in the dough and generously studded with chocolate chips and also chocolate chunks from a baking bar.
They are a revelation, the richest, chocolatiest cookies I have ever made. They are the kind of cookies that, when you eat them, little bits of chocolate melt off them and onto your fingers. Soft and chewy, their texture adds another layer of luxury to the whole cookie-eating experience.
Also, they are so big that you only put three of them on a baking sheet. That's fine, though, because the recipe only makes six. Each one should probably be four servings, but let's get real: You're going to want a whole one to yourself.
The other enormous cookies are less large, but they are still massive — massively delicious.
These are Chocolate-Chip Walnut Cookies, as made at New York's famous Gramercy Tavern, which is run by St. Louis native Danny Meyer. The restaurant's executive chef writes "you may think I'm exaggerating when I say this is the best version of the iconic chocolate-chip cookie, but truly I have never had a better one."
Naturally, I wanted to try it. And if the chef is wrong, it is not by much.
These cookies are the best of both worlds, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Their interior chewiness comes from an extra egg yolk in the dough, and they are puffy because they use both baking powder and baking soda.
I like nuts in my chocolate chip cookies, so I used the walnuts that the recipe calls for. If you don't like nuts, leave them out.
Chocolate plays a role in yet another batch of the cookies I made. Chocolate-Dipped Orange Shortbread makes excellent use of the often overlooked combination of chocolate and orange.
On first consideration, orange seems like an unusual flavor for a cookie, and it seems like it on second consideration, too. But it turns out that a few tablespoons of orange juice, and the zest of the peel that the juice came from, take an already desirable shortbread cookie dough and make it extraordinary.
The cookies pick up a lovely flavor of orange that is subtle but unmistakable. They are quite good on their own that way — I'm afraid I had several — but plunging them halfway into a bowl of melted chocolate, and then letting the chocolate harden, raises them to a new height of sophistication.
Elegance is also what you get with a plate of coffee-almond cookies. These were originally created to be served at "elevenses" at fine English hotels, and it is hard to get more cultivated than that.
These begin with a strong coffee syrup, but very little of it — just a tablespoon in all. This coffee is then blended into a dough that is similar to shortbread: buttery, crumbly and rich. Thin slivers of almonds provide a delicate counterpunch to the coffee, and it is all brought together with the molasses crunch of coarse brown sugar around the rim.
I loved them, and I don't even like coffee.
And finally I made a batch of cookies that were neither huge nor made with chocolate or coffee. What they had was a secret ingredient: Special K cereal.
These are very simple sugar cookies with Special K cereal mixed in. I had never had Special K cereal before, because I had a vague idea that it was a laxative, or something, and that it therefore tasted like cardboard.
I was wrong on both counts.
I have neither the space nor the inclination here to go into Special K's merits as a cereal. But I will say this: It makes an amazing cookie.
They are light in texture, lacy and crunchy. For reasons I don't understand, they almost taste as if they have a bit of citrus in them, which adds additional intrigue. What is best of all, your friends and family will know there is something unusual in them, but they won't figure out what it is.
Then, to see if they can identify it, they'll want to have three or four more.
SPECIAL K COOKIES
Yield: About 60 cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 cups Special K cereal
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder; add this mixture to the butter mixture and beat or stir until just combined. Fold in the cereal. Roll into 1½-inch balls and place 1½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top. Cool on baking sheets.
Per serving: 57 calories; 3g fat; 2g saturated fat; 8mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 7g carbohydrate; 4g sugar; 1g fiber; 32mg sodium; 13mg calcium
Recipe from “Four Sisters Inns Cookbook”
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHUNK AND CHIP COOKIES
Yield: 6 (4-inch) cookies
1¼ cups plus 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour (190 grams)
½ cup plus 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (48 grams)
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, lightly packed (134 grams)
1¾ teaspoons unsulfured blackstrap molasses
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (167 grams)
1 large egg (60 grams)
²⁄³ cup chunks of 70% (bittersweet) chocolate, (107 grams)
Scant ½ cup chocolate chips (107 grams)
1. Place the flour in a medium bowl and sift in the cocoa and baking soda. Add the salt and whisk together. Place the dark brown sugar in a small bowl and stir in the molasses and granulated sugar, breaking up any lumps; the mixture will not be completely smooth.
2. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to medium-low speed and cream the butter until it is the consistency of mayonnaise and holds a peak when the paddle is lifted. Add the molasses mixture and mix for 3 to 4 minutes, until fluffy. Add the egg and mix on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds, until just combined. Scrape the bowl again. The mixture may look broken, but that is fine (overwhipping the eggs could cause the cookies to expand too much during baking and then deflate).
3. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds after each, or until just combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there. Add the chocolate chunks and chocolate chips and turn the mixer on and off on low speed about 10 times to combine. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
5. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions, about 140 grams each. Roll each one into a ball between the palms of your hands (at this point, the balls can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before baking or frozen for up to 1 month; defrost the cookies on a lined baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight before baking).
6. The cookies are very large; bake only 3 on each pan, as far from each other (and from the sides) as possible. Lightly flatten each one with the palm of your hand.
7. Bake until done, about 18 to 20 minutes, reversing the positions of the pans halfway through baking. (Because they are dark brown, it is tricky to tell when the cookies are done, but all areas should look baked and you should smell their aroma). Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
8. The cookies are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days.
Per serving: 700 calories; 37g fat; 22g saturated fat; 99mg cholesterol; 9g protein; 90g carbohydrate; 58g sugar; 7g fiber; 340mg sodium; 61mg calcium
Recipe from “Bouchon Bakery” by Sebastien Rouxel
Yield: 30 cookies
1 teaspoon hot water
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
5 ounces (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 egg, separated
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ ounces slivered almonds, roughly but evenly chopped
¼ cup demerara or turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw), for coating
1. In a small cup or bowl, mix together the hot water and instant coffee to make a thick syrup. Set aside
2. Using a stand mixer, lightly cream the butter and powdered sugar on low speed until blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the egg yolk and coffee syrup. Mix well. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Add the almonds, mixing slowly and gently until they are distributed throughout — you may need to stop the mixer and stir them in manually, so the nuts don’t get crushed.
3. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, then roll each piece into a log about 6 inches long and 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread the demerara or turbinado sugar on a flat plate.
5. Lightly beat the egg white to loosen it. Unwrap the logs of dough. Brush each all over with the egg white, then roll each log in the sugar. Press gently to ensure the sugar sticks to the dough.
6. Slice the dough into ½-inch thick pieces and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them ¾ inch apart. (If you want, you can freeze one or both of the logs at this point for up to 2 months; just defrost the dough in the refrigerator before proceeding to the next step).
7. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. These cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Per serving: 86 calories; 5g fat; 3g saturated fat; 16mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 10g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 1g fiber; 3mg sodium; 7mg calcium
Recipe from “Claridge’s: The Cookbook” by Martyn Nail and Meredith Erickson
CHOCOLATE CHIP-WALNUT COOKIES
Yield: 14 (3-inch) cookies
1¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
5 ounces (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1¹⁄³ cups semisweet chocolate chips or white chocolate chunks
1 cup walnuts or macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed just until thoroughly combined. Beat in the egg, then the yolk and finally the vanilla.
3. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture just until almost combined. Add the chocolate chips and nuts, and stir until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight for the best results.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with racks in the lower and upper-middle positions. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Divide the dough into 14 balls, each about ¹⁄³ cup. Arrange the balls about 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake, switching the pans hallway through, until the cookies are golden brown but a little underbaked, 16 to 18 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the sheets. The cookies will keep in a covered container for up to 5 days.
Per serving: 334 calories; 20g fat; 9g saturated fat; 48mg cholesterol; 5g protein; 39g carbohydrate; 25g sugar; 2g fiber; 148mg sodium; 45mg calcium
Recipe from “The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook” by Michael Anthony
CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE SHORTBREAD Holiday cookies
Homebaked cookies for the holidays, Chocolate-Dipped Orange Shortbread, photographed Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Photo by Hillary Levin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Yield: About 50 cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and cutting out the dough
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1. To make the shortbread, in a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer set on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg, followed by the orange zest, orange juice and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until combined.
2. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours, or up to 2 days (if it is too firm to roll out, let stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes to slightly soften).
3. Position the oven racks in the top third and center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
4. Working with 1 disk at a time, briefly knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface until smooth. Roll out the dough ? inch thick. Dip a 2½-inch round cookie cutter or another shape of a similar size in flour and cut out cookies, cutting them as close together as possible to avoid excess scraps.
5. Arrange the rounds (or whatever shape your cookie cutter is) about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather up the dough scraps and gently knead together, and cut out more cookies. If the dough becomes too soft to roll out, refrigerate until chilled. Refrigerate any remaining dough while you bake the first batch.
6. Bake, rotating the positions of the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are lightly browned on the edges and bottoms, about 15 minutes. The cookie tops will not brown, but do not underbake them or they will lack flavor. Let cool on the baking sheets 5 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling racks and let cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough on cooled baking sheets (you can use the same parchment paper 2 times).
7. To dip the cookies, line baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats. Melt chocolate in a double boiler (place it in a metal bowl above a pot of gently simmering water) or in the microwave (heat it on medium power — 50 percent —until fully melted, stirring at 30-second intervals). Place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot tap water to keep it warm enough for dipping, being careful not to splash water into the melted chocolate.
8. One at a time dip half of each cookie into the chocolate. Drag the bottom of the cookie across the rim of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, and place the cookie on the baking sheet. If the chocolate cools and thickens, briefly reheat until it is dippable again. Let the cookies stand until the chocolate sets and they can be easily lifted from the baking sheet, about 1 hour.
Per serving: 94 calories; 5g fat; 3g saturated fat; 14mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 12g carbohydrate; 6g sugar; 1g fiber; 43 mg sodium; 16mg calcium
Adapted from “Baking for Friends” by Kathleen King
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